• Wendell Barnhouse

Bacon and Brackets - CBT's Sweet 16 Update

Sir Francis Bacon, famous smart guy from the 15th century, is credited with the philosophical phrase, “knowledge itself is power.”


If Sir Francis was a modern-day college basketball fan, he no doubt would have considered himself the smartest basketball savant in the country and been exceedingly confident in filling out his March Madness bracket.


There’s also little doubt that sometime over the weekend that bracket would’ve been folded, spindled, mutilated, and tossed to the recycle bin. Yes, Sir Francis would be a “save-the-planet green” guy.


Sir Francis might also be moved to coin another phrase: “We don’t know what we don’t know.”


We spend the season watching college hoops, reading insightful stories, analyzing analytics, measuring matchups. On Selection Sunday, those who still have the fantasy of accuracy, project the winners and march four teams to the Final Four and pick a winner.


It’s a collective crazy. We don’t know what we don’t know. If you feel stupid after the first weekend of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, chill. There’s plenty of stupid going around. And to come.


NCAA.com monitors its own bracket challenge sponsored by Capital One plus brackets submitted to web sites at ESPN, CBS Sports and Yahoo! Of the 20 million brackets, it took just 28 games to end the impossible chance of a perfect bracket. In 2019, a perfect bracket existed for 49 games.


Then there’s this nugget from John Gasaway of ESPN.com. The average seed of this year’s Sweet 16 is 5.3. From 1985-2021, the average Sweet 16 seed was 4.5. Last year’s Sweet 16 seed was 5.9. Two seasons do not make a trend but don’t assume the wacky brackets are going away.


Attempting to explain the crazy is, well, crazy. Knowledge is power, but the best knowledge involving high-pressured athletic competition between young men is obvious only when visible in the rearview mirror. Here’s what we didn’t know.


* No. 9 seed North Carolina and No. 11 seed Michigan advanced to regional semifinals thanks to a genius strategy. Both teams had crappy stretches during the season. The Tar Heels lost games by 17, 29, 28, 28 and 20 by the first week of February. The Wolverines’ longest winning streak was three games and they lost to UNC by 21 in early December. Both name-brand schools had talent worthy of being at least on the four seed line. Who knew their lousy resumes would be beneficial?


* The transfer portal can work like Star Trek’s Scotty beaming bodies around the universe. Brady Manek was a three-year starter at Oklahoma … he was a Sooners freshman along with Trae Young. He decided to transfer when Lon Kruger retired. About 50 schools were interested when his name popped in the portal. He chose North Carolina and first-year coach Hubert Davis, who needed a stretch four. Manek averaged 14 points per game during the season but who knew he’d be averaging 21 over his last six and making the Tar Heels a dark horse Final Four team?


* Iowa State, which won two games last season, was a unanimous pick to finish last in the Big 12 pre-season poll. Conference coaches, who can’t vote for their own team, vote in the poll; what do they know? Again, credit the transfer portal. First-year coach T.J. Oztelberger inherited a two-win team and rebuilt the roster with transfers. What no one could have known was how effective and quickly the rebuild would happen. With victories over LSU and Wisconsin, the 11th-seeded Cyclones became the first team in NCAA history to match their win total from the previous season in its first two tournament games.


* Who knew Arkansas would be the only Southeastern Conference team to survive and advance? The other five SEC teams all lost to double-digit seeds. The SEC had more teams seeded on the top six seed lines than any other conference.


* Auburn played like a bunch of blind squirrels in its 79-61 loss to No. 10 seed Miami. "The SEC will get crushed for our tournament performance,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We just beat each other up all year. It was just a grind.” Huh. Who knew a used car salesman disguised as a coach would try to sell a lemon of an excuse? The Big 12 also played an 18-game schedule that was arguably a tougher grind. It has three teams in the Sweet 16 and two of the teams that lost gallantly went down fighting in overtime.


* Who knew how quickly nine could become two? The Big Ten placed nine teams in the bracket and only No. 3 Purdue and No. 11 Michigan are still playing. Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State were upset victims based on seeding.


* Auburn got plenty of love when it ascended to No. 1 in the polls for the first time in school history. Kentucky was a popular choice for the Final Four, with most of that based on its 20-point victory at Kansas six weeks (!) ago. Iowa’s Keegan Murray and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis had wonderful seasons but perhaps the praise for the players overshadowed their teams’ flaws. Who knew that network talking heads could influence the masses? (OK, admittedly, we know that hot air inflates the hype balloon.)


* Even the experts who know a lot don’t know it all. Seth Davis, who is the most informed and honest analyst on March Madness studio shows and writes for The Athletic, wrote this about his pick of Auburn to beat Miami: “And like every other team in the country, Miami does not have a wing who can match up defensively with Auburn freshman forward Jabari Smith.” Who knew that Smith would score 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting?


* One upset that didn’t happen was fourth-seeded Providence losing to No. 13 South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were hippity hopping on a 21-game winning streak, but that ended with a 66-57 loss. It was the Friars’ 16th victory decided by single digits. "We want to be in a close game," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “If luck is the narrative that continues to keep us connected and winning, we'll take it." The Friars “lucked” their way to the Sweet 16, just as their seed predicted. Who knew the talking heads and writing fingers who like to make “smart” upset picks can be so wrong? (Again, admittedly, hot air, hype… blah, blah, blah.)


* Saint Peter’s peacock-strutted to becoming the third No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Here’s what Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway says about his team. “I love guys who play with emotion and passion. That’s who we are. I'm going to say this. It's going to come off a little crazy. I got guys from New Jersey and New York City. You think we're scared of anything? Everybody keeps saying we can't do that, we can't do that, we don't have this, and we don't have that. We got heart. That's what matters.” You don’t know what you can’t see.


* Three No. 1 seeds advanced but Kansas, Gonzaga and Arizona won by single digits and the Wildcats needed overtime. We don’t know if their second-round struggles were indicative of inherent problems or the product of facing a determined underdog. For all three, surviving the second round could be their only close calls. Or it could portend danger.


* Of the 16 remaining teams, three have never reached the Final Four (Saint Peter’s, Iowa State and Miami). Gonzaga, Texas Tech, Purdue, Houston, and Providence join those three on the “never won a title” list. Who knows if a newbie will reach the Final Four or hold a trophy come the night of April 4?


In summation, one-third of the way through the NCAA Tournament portion of March Madness illustrates that every year, we group-think what’s going to happen and 99.9999 percent of us are wrong.


And we’ll do it again in 2023.


Sir Francis Bacon and Albert Einstein would probably have been fast friends if they had trod this mortal coil at the same time. Einstein is often miscredited – and it’s a pity because it’s brilliant — with this quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”


It’s a popular explanation for inexplicable and maddening decisions/choices.


So, now you know it doesn’t take an Einstein to understand why the NCAA Tournament is insanity that we embrace because it drives us crazy.


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